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A syllabus is a map to your class, use it wisely

By Jenna Moede

In the past I have mentioned the mess I had when I didn’t realize my class had an early deadline for the last week. It not only affected my grade for that class, but my overall GPS.

This semester I’ve dutifully studied hard and completed all my assignments so far, but I wanted to talk about one of the most important tools that students receive from their professors: the syllabus.

The syllabus, also known as the piece of paper I usually stuck in the back of my folder and took notes on, matters.

Each syllabus might look a little different, but I’ve listed several items a syllabus could include and why we should pay attention.

First the syllabus will often list the course description along with the credit hours earned upon completion. This semester, I read the description and class objectives a few days before classes started as soon as it became available to students.

Reading it helped me set my learning expectations for the class since I knew the class focus. It also influenced my mini goals for this semester since I figured out how they’d fit with the class objectives.

Next, students can usually find required reading materials and any recommended e-resources, books or additional materials listed on the syllabus. This helps students determine what they will have access to through the course and what they may want to consider purchasing before the start date.

Often during my undergraduate courses, I completely ignored the recommended materials, but judging from my use of them now, they would have benefitted me then too.

The syllabus sometimes includes a weekly breakdown of topics and maybe even assignments. When I have one that lists them by week, I scan the assignments to prepare for the time commitment each week. I note weeks with high value, long assignments and midterms and finals.

Knowing early what’s coming helps when planning my schedule each week.

Sometimes my syllabus has even included my professor’s office hours. Keeping those hours in an easily accessible place or highlighting them may come in clutch when I feel stuck or need a more detailed explanation, and I have already used that resource this semester.

Lastly, most contain a grading scale. I think everyone already knows professors include it on the syllabus, but I really studied it on my first day to make sure I understood the expectations of my new program.

I appreciate that I also know exactly how many points I need to earn to receive the final grade I want. Knowing the exact number makes it easy to see my progress with each assignment.  

To prepare myself for success, I printed my syllabus so I could mark it up and refer to it whenever I have a question. It has become like a map to my class.

I hope other students take the time to look each syllabus over, highlight it, transfer dates to a calendar, and become familiar with it so that surprises in the course don’t have to happen. Doing this has helped me feel more prepared, excited and focused, and has helped me overcome my nervousness of returning to school.

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